Scar Stories

May 5, 2019

Rev. Dr. David Clark

Senior Minister

John 20:19-31

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As we continue celebrating this Easter season, we pick back up on the Easter story by what happened Easter evening. On Easter we talked about what happened in the morning, now we see where the story picks back up when the disciples had gathered in their meeting place. Can you imagine their confusion? Peter and John had gone to the tomb to check out Mary Magdalene’s report that the tomb was empty. They believe he might be alive. Mary claimed to have seen him.

No matter what had happened it couldn’t have seemed like any of this was good. If someone had stolen the body, they would surely be blamed and probably executed. I can just see it. Bartholomew, “Hey, remember how five days ago when Jesus got mad and drove the money changers out of the temple? Remember his face, how intense he was, how angry? And remember how each one of us sat at the table with him on Thursday and solemnly reiterated our pledge to stay with him no matter what—how we promised that we would go to the cross with him? And remember how we all ran away and abandoned him when the guards came? If he is alive, what do you think he’ll do to us?”

They bolted the door.

And then John writes so matter-of-factly, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” He didn’t wag his finger at them. He didn’t shame them. He didn’t bring up the past. He came to make and bring peace and reconciliation. After he passes the peace on to them, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced.

The thing that intrigues me about the risen Jesus is that he has scars. You might think that Jesus’ resurrection would have erased the visible reminders of his agony and death. Not so! He had scars–and those scars told the story.

There are websites where you can submit a picture of your scar and then tell its story and then give your story a title. There is “A Scar is Born,” which chronicles a car accident resulting in a nasty head gash. There’s picture of a scar across the bridge of a young man’s nose that he got from a boomerang. The story is titled, “They Do Come Back.” What’s your scar story?

I like the idea of having to title the stories that our scars tell. It is like a mini lesson on redemption.  It is a way of attaching some meaning, sometimes levity, or hope to an otherwise painful memory. Scars help put things into perspective. They remind us: You healed. You got through that.

While life brings its share of physical scars from injuries, there are also invisible scars that come from inner wounds. We may carry the scars from a divorce, from what somebody did, from a mistake we made, from a failure, or betrayal or losing something or someone important to us. So often we try to hide our scars. They remind us of the hurt. We don’t see anything positive about them and wish they would go away. But you can see your scars as a reminder of what he brought you through. When you see that scar, don’t think of the pain, think of the grace of God. The scar means the wound has healed, the pain is over, and you’re moving forward. What kept you tossing and turning at night is behind you. The Jesus who says, “Peace be with you,” can help you make peace with your scars, your past, yourself.

There is an organization, Scar Stories that is devoted to the stories of young adults who bear scars from cancer. They have these amazing photographers who take their portraits. And they have a book of them published. In our perfect body image obsessed world here is a book of people with scars, lots of them. But what shines through is the spirit of these amazing people.

There is Sarah who had bone cancer and multiple surgeries to replace many of the joints throughout her body. She said when she saw her portrait, she stopped breathing for a second or two because the photographs didn’t just tell the physical story it seemed to tell her spiritual story. When she got her diagnosis, she came home and told her new husband, “We’ve got cancer. It just happens to be in my body, but we’ve got cancer.” She tells about how they circled the wagons, surrounding themselves with people they could count on so they could focus on inward healing and what was positive.

She said, “None of us know who long we will be here for. But I have had an overwhelmingly challenging experience that has enriched my life beyond anything I could ever dream of. My life is bursting with the richest love I could ever imagine thanks to cancer.”

There was one young man who said, “My pictures tell the story of a kid who had cancer at 7 years old and kicked its butt.”

There was Mikhil whose face was completely scarred and deformed. He talked about how he learned to change his mindset to deal with adversity. One day he imagined himself stepping out of his body and looking at his life from someone else’s perspective. And he realized that all the feelings of anger and fear and depression was, “coming from ME. My brain. My mind. If I was making myself feel that way, I could take it away too. In the end we will always have the final say of what’s going on with us…I learned you will always have a second better way of looking at things, always.”

Because these people have had the courage to tell their stories, and not hide their scars, the ones inside and out, they have inspired other people to deal with what they have to go through. You never know how God might use your scar story, your truth to give hope to someone else.

I have a scar on my arm that didn’t need to be there. It started out as just a normal childhood scrape. But in the healing, it would get itchy when the scabs formed. I couldn’t help myself. I had to pick at it. Mom would catch me and remind me. “It’s never going to heal if you keep picking at it! The more you pick at it the uglier the scar will be.”

Wounds don’t heal if you insist at picking at them. Yeah it gets itchy, begs you to make your hurt the center of your universe, but you’ve got to let it heal. I remember when someone had done me wrong in a bad bad way and I just couldn’t let it go. Time would go by and I’d get triggered and kept running the replay of what happened in my mind over and over again. Instead of letting it heal, I kept scratching the itch. I don’t know who, but I’m guessing God led someone here today just to remind them that their wounds won’t heal if they keep picking at it, keeping the wound open, staying bound by the past. I’m just telling you what your mother would.

Some folks have great big, ugly wounds that never fully heal, continuing to affect in their lives and relationships. Some bear scars they wear like a badge, and use the wounds inflicted on them as an excuse for their own meanness, or indifference, or resignation.

You don’t have to be bitter or sour about your circumstances. But you can in faith, put it behind you and pray for healing. Yeah, you were mistreated, maybe even abused in ways you can’t even bear. Yeah, life wasn’t fair to you. Yeah, someone did you wrong. It happened.

But you don’t have to be defined by that. Your eating disorder may be rooted in how your mom treated you. But you don’t have to stay that way. It’s up to you to choose healing. To choose to let it scar over.Yes, you may have to learn to forgive. Yes, you may need help to get there. Yes, taking it to God makes a difference in help.

I think it’s interesting that Jesus showed the disciples his hands and feet. Remember he would have had scars all over his body. He had been flogged, they thrust a crown of thorns onto his head. There were scars all over him, but he shows his hands and feet—the place where the nails were.

What held him to the cross doesn’t hold him any more—there are no more nails. He rose. And like I said on Easter the resurrection stories aren’t just about Jesus. They are to show what is true and possible for all of us. No more nails. What used to hold you, doesn’t have to hold you any longer. There are no more nails. The cross is empty.

Don’t sacrifice your future on the altar of what happened in the past. What someone did to you doesn’t have to hold you. The stories that you tell yourself about how you don’t measure up, about how flawed you are–they don’t have to hold you. The self-inflected wounds, the ones that you can’t forgive yourself over, they don’t have to hold you. Let the nails stay on the cross.

The risen Christ has no interest in your shame. Yeah you made mistakes. But the point of the crucifixion and resurrection is that you know you are not beyond redemption. That it can be done with today. No more nails. Say it with me. No more nails! Where the nails were is where the healing happens. And guess what, scar tissue is thicker and tougher than thin skin. The place where the scars are the places where God can make your greatest strengths.

Often the things that have wounded us the most become the very things that become our strengths. Henri Nouwen wrote a book called Wounded Healers where he talked about how the stuff we’ve been through is what can help us become more empathetic for others. Your testimony of your scars, your scar stories can give others hope that they can get through what they are going through. Don’t hide your scars; don’t be afraid to tell your scar stories.

Some of the most important things about you, some of your greatest strengths come from the very places the nails once were. Scars that tell a story that says what might have defeated you has been turned into a healing story, a victory story, a strengthening story.

I have a big old scar on my belly from when I was a young man and needed life-saving surgery for a bowel disease. It was a horrible time in my life. Not only was I sick, within a year and a half of that began my senior year of high school, I nearly died three times, my parents divorced and moved to other states, my brother came out as gay, I started college 10 days after a major bowel resection and I got my girlfriend pregnant and got married. Sometimes I forget I have a scar. But when times get tough, I just rub my belly, like a fat buddha in a Chinese restaurant, brush my fingertips over that scar and remember God is with me, I’ll get through whatever I’m up against. And I know It’s because I went through all those things that I have empathy for others, that I can be vulnerable and love life. And feel like I do have something to offer people going through tough times.

Our scars tell our stories. They tell the stories of how we have come through the trials and suffering and the pain in our lives. They can tell the story of how God got us through and made us what we are now.

To the disciples huddled all together behind locked doors this is good news. Jesus shows up and says, “Peace.” They can make peace with their scars, their experience. Then he breaths the Holy Spirit on them, the life-giving, wound-healing power of the Holy Spirit that helps them embrace their healing and God’s forgiveness. Then he tells them to take the message of forgiveness and peace and healing into the world.

“As the father sent me,” Jesus said, “So send I you.”  Scars and all.  Amen.